“We’re making inquiries as to the whereabouts of one Hakim Gomez. Sources have placed him in your company, Mr. Bennett. I don’t wish to name the nightclub in question.”
A bolt of ice shoots down Steven’s back, frozen lightning against his spine. His heart is thudding in his ears, his mouth too dry to bullshit an answer.
“We’ll give you forty-five minutes to consider your response. I trust you’ll make the right decision.” Click.
He lowers the phone from his ear, slowly, eyes fixed on the pile of dishes heaped beside the sink. They’ve been building up for far too long. They need washing. He can’t bring himself to move.
He isn’t sure how long it’s been when Hakim comes out of their bedroom, pulling a tight T-shirt over his mussy hair. When he sees Steven standing there, motionless and white-faced, he snaps awake: Steven can see him bracing himself, the sudden tension knotting in his chest.
“What is it?”
Steven gulps a glass of cold water, numbing his throat from what’s raging inside him. He can’t force the words from his mouth. “I just saw on the news,” he says, not quite lying – there’s more than enough bad news to choose from. “They’ve started actually reporting on it when the police lynch folks, now. Not in a good way.” More water, like ice nestling in his belly. He tries to freeze the feeling of sickness inside him. “It’s pretty much hate propaganda. The mob’ll be out in full force tonight.”
“Not what I needed.” Hakim runs a hand through his hair, spiking it upwards. “I’m starting to think it’s time to get out of here.”
“If we could.” Steven laughs, bitter, and wonders for a moment if it could be done. If they could leave everything they have, if they could ditch everything they might be tracked with. If they could make it over the border. If it’d be any better on the other side.
A small voice inside him whispers, Anything is better than dying.
Hakim empties some cereal into a bowl, then starts eating it dry, popping one piece after another into his mouth. Steven watches him, heart breaking with pain and love and fear – God, he’s beautiful, but – the voice on the phone, the cold click of a broken connection. I don’t wish to name the nightclub in question. They know. They know, and it’s not just Hakim’s life on the line.
If he hid Hakim – somehow, anywhere – (not that there’s any place he could) – or if he turned him out, sent him fleeing for the border – (maybe, maybe, one person would be safer than two – maybe – and maybe Steven’s life would still be here, his friends, his job, his – he can’t believe he’s thinking this. He can’t allow the thought to finish.)
The pile of dishes is still staring him in the face. The calendar tacked against the wall, with notes written in both their hands. Hakim’s clothes, strewn about the flat. The pair of toothbrushes in the bathroom, the pair of combs. The double set of keys in the holder. The shopping, always done for two. Receipts, utilities, the gossip of neighbours.
He can’t clean it all away before they come.
Hakim leans over and kisses his cheek: wordless comfort, void of empty promises. Steven turns to embrace him, burying his face in his neck. “I love you,” he whispers.
“Same to you,” Hakim answers, as always, the playful words gentled by a sombre tone. His arms are around Steven’s waist, his hands softly stroking his back.
Steven holds him, tight. He never wants to let him go.
In his pocket, the phone rings.